Waking up to “BEEP BEEP BEEP” at 4:45 AM is never easy, but even with only a few hours of sleep the adrenaline of tournament day woke me up much like a tarpon coming tight to my line. This particular Saturday was extra rough after having spent the previous five days fishing some of the best snook areas around the world in Southwest Florida, and driving up to Orlando just a few hours before the 6 AM check in at KBB Outfitters in Titusville, Florida for the College Kayak Fishing Series.
After meeting with the other anglers from across the state and going over the rules with local tournament director Will Cochran, my teammate Chadwick Anderson and I devised a quick game plan. We needed a combination of six redfish, trout, snook, or flounder. Knowing the local waters of Mosquito and Indian River Lagoon quite well, I recommended we target the most abundant species: redfish and trout.
Early morning low winds gave us the option to make a long paddle to the Poll/Troll Zone in Mosquito Lagoon, where upper and overslot redfish are often known to school up this time of year. Without hesitation, we booked it to our launch site and made the long paddle north. Within minutes of reaching our flat, Chad was hooked into a lower slot red on the Bone Rapala Skitterwalk he was throwing. After a quick pic on our 321 ruler with our tournament token present, we released the fish to fight another day.
“Quick work! One down, five to go”, I said to Chad as we continued working up the flat.
Aware of a few boats working their way onto the same flat, we decided to make haste and book it to the particular area where these fish had been schooled up the past few weeks. Being courteous to a skiff that had beat us to the “promised lands”, we waited as they had their opportunity to pick off a fish from the school they had noticeably bumped up as we approached.
Within just minutes of the skiff bumping up these fish, the school cruised within casting distance of Chad and I. Immediately we could sense the fish were skittish. Often the humming of motors even a few miles away or even just catching a fish out of the school will put the fish into a very alert state. That being noted, I decided to pitch a Camo Slayer Sinister Swim Tail (S.S.T.) on my 8’ medium action rod to keep some extra distance between myself and the fish. One cast in front of the school and not even two cranks of the reel, and I’m hooked up. Not quite what I was looking for, but after a short fight we had our second fish, a 18.5” red, in the yak before 8 AM.
At this point, a few more skiffs had made their way to the fish and began poling around us. After one good strike from what looked like a BIG fish, the bite shut down pretty hard. We figured the fish probably just moved off due to all the commotion from us and the boats, so we worked our way from the crowds to find some less pressured fish. It was not more than a few casts after I recommended to Chad that he should switch to a watermelon DOA shrimp rigged weedless, that his rod was doubled over with another solid redfish he picked up off a sand bar. After another quick fight, we had a 20” red in the boat. Three down, three to go.
Half an hour or so of working the same flat without even a sight of another redfish, made it an easy choice to pick up to make a long haul to a flat a couple miles to the south. By this time is was around 10 o’clock and the wind began to pick up...and picked up it did. Within half an hour, the wind jumped from 5 mph to nearly 20 mph coming directly from the south. Given such a sudden change in conditions that was sure to blow out the flat we wanted to fish, Chad and I decided to make a difficult decision to change launches in hopes of finding a more protected area.
I can tell you two foot seas caused by high winds are nothing to mess with in a kayak, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to find the fish. Those who regularly fish Mosquito Lagoon and have crossed it during a strong north or south wind know our pain. After a very wet and wild forty-five minute paddle back to the ramp, we quickly loaded up the yaks in the truck and were on our way.
As we pulled up to the next launch, an older fellow was returning from his day of fishing. Curious to see how his morning went, we started chatting with him as we unloaded our gear. Having nothing to talk about except for the excessive numbers of pufferfish out on the flats wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. Nonetheless we had made a bold decision, and we were sticking to it. After eating a quick lunch, we took off in search of some bigger redfish to fill our scorecard. With heavy winds at our back, I began slow bumping along the flat with the Micro Power-Pole I recently installed on my Jackson Cuda 14. Some say it’s a bit excessive; but having the ability to bump up, drift twenty yards, and anchor up again to fan cast an area with just the touch of a button in 20 mph winds is a godsend.
With little time to spare, Chad and I swiftly made our way to a shoreline running from east to west to find some protection from the now howling southern wind. I’ve found that normally if you’re searching for protection from the wind, so are the fish. As I continued to bump along with the Micro, I began to notice a few fish near the shoreline feeding on some grass shrimp near the surface. It’s quite a sight to see when a big green grass shrimp comes shooting out of the water as a hungry red chases from below with the intention of having an early afternoon snack! As I always tell others who fish with me, I reminded myself it is important to match the hatch. Even though I’m a paddle tail fanatic, the reds were chewing on grass shrimp so I picked up my 7’2” medium/fast action rod with a watermelon DOA Shrimp rigged weedless.
After a few missed opportunities, a lit up red (I mean this fish was glowing!) slowly made it’s way across the bow of my Cuda 14 as I was slow drifting near the shoreline. Now more often than not when you see a fish that close to your kayak, the fish probably sees you too. In this situation, it was clear that the red had seen me; but when shrimp is on a redfish’s mind, it’s probably gonna eat! I gently put down my paddle onto the seadek pads I had installed just a week before, and quickly and quietly picked up my rod. One cast, one twitch, and that redfish was all over my bait! I instantly realized I hadn’t set the drag on my Shimano Stradic 2500 quite tight enough as the fish burned off 50 yds off line in a matter of seconds.
Being the bonehead that I am, I forgot to grab a tournament token at the check-in so I began yelling at Chad who was working the flat a couple hundred yards away. As he approached me a few minutes later I had a been grin on my face as I held my prize, a bronze beauty, 27.5” red. After snapping a few “money shots” as I like to call them, I sent this fish back to the waters where it belonged. With little more than an hour left to fish, Chad and I worked our way back to the ramp looking to pick up any trout to fill our scorecard with no luck.
As we made it back to KBB Outfitters to catch up with the rest of the anglers, it seemed that Chad and I had done quite well! Although we didn’t fill our card, our move paid off as we took home first place and big fish for the tournament. Not too bad for a kid who never fished a tournament before and another who was dead tired and sleep deprived as could be. All in all, our first experience fishing in the College Kayak Fishing Series was one to be remembered. Thanks to all who participated and especially to those who helped put on this awesome event!